After breadth comes depth. You need to try deep travel, which means settling down and getting to know your favorite places a little more intimately.
If you do it right, you'll meet and get to know the locals. Are they frustrated by their government financed health care system or empowered by it? Are their foods wholesome and tasty? Do they buy it from small farms or get their food via agribusiness?
What do you need to do to practice deep travel?
Get yourself grounded; rent a house in a village you like, or find another means of living in one place for a while. Then explore. That's deep travel in a nutshell--two steps.
Step 1. Getting Grounded - Renting a Vacation HouseRenting a vacation house or apartment is easy. Self catering has become so popular that weekly rental prices have fallen drastically in the last few years. Often, a small house that sleeps four or six will cost far less than the corresponding number of hotel rooms.
Besides bedrooms, you'll usually get cooking facilities and a washing machine in your vacation rental. And renting a house is a good way to allow yourself to pack light, knowing you can wash everything once you get to your destination. Schedule your rental for the middle of your vacation for maximum benefit.
Then attend the local festivals, make friends at the local watering hole, and get your wine bottle filled at the local cantina.
Alternatives to Vacation Rentals for Deep Travel
Go to language school. Most language schools will find lodging for you, either with a family or in an apartment near the school. Here's a way to stay in an area for a while learning how to speak the language--a win-win for the deep traveler.
Volunteer! Yes, there are many programs that house and "employ" volunteer workers. You will probably have to pay a sum--sometimes a hefty sum--to volunteer, but not only will you get to stay in a European village, but you'll get to work in an unfamiliar environment. Dig at an archaeological site, restore a church, or teach the locals English; volunteering is a great way to offer your services to a community while learning how life is lived in those places.
Last Step: Explore! Converse! Ask!
Once, on an archaeological expedition marred by boring meals at the local restaurant in Puglia, the heel of Italy's "boot," --three of us set out on our day off to get more information on a rumored "road rally" taking place on the very roads we were surveying for archaeological sites.
We figured the folks at the "Bar Sport" in the next village would likely know. So we hiked over and asked. The bartender had no idea. When we turned to leave, the sole customer approached and asked, "You all aren't Italian, are you?"
When I replied that we were from the US, he beamed and told us to come with him. He had a daughter who wanted to practice her English. We had nothing to do, so we followed. It probably wasn't the first time someone was followed home from a bar.
Within 15 minutes of walking past the gate to the man's house we were being served a three course Italian meal. It was the best food we'd had in weeks. Not only were we content with the grub, but we'd discovered the secret to making the bland food at our restaurant at least a little more palatable: a drizzle of hot chili oil that was ubiquitous in Puglia, but was never served us at the restaurant. We took some with us when we left.
Not only that, but we discovered that our friend had lost everything when his accountant ran off with the family fortune. He had to figure out a way to make a living, and quickly. So now, out of a corner of his house, he now makes the best athletic socks in Italy. Most of the better soccer teams wear them.
And finally our friend, Pepino Tubatore, got a girlfriend. She spoke perfect English without any practice at all.
Curious? Ask. What can they do to you for over inquisitiveness? Deport you?
By and large people love it when you ask them about their customs. Don't order off the menu at a restaurant, ask the waiter what the local specialties are. You often get better food this way--all because you appear more interested than the standard tourist. And that usually makes people the world over quite happy.
Give Deep Travel a try.